Herpes is a leading cause of blindness, and University of California, Irvine researchers Lbachir BenMohamed and Anthony Nesburn have created a novel herpes vaccine they believe can prevent the virus from harming the eye

UC IRVINE (US)—The herpes virus has a well-kept secret. While the trademark symptoms are widely known, few realize the virus is a leading cause of blindness. A new eye-drop vaccine developed by researchers at the University of California, Irvine could halt those vision-impairing side effects.

About half a million Americans have ocular herpes, stemming from the type 1 herpes simplex virus (HSV-1). While it often remains dormant, the virus can be activated by psychological, chemical, or environmental stresses and infect the eye’s corneal region, sometimes causing blindness through a condition called herpetic stromal keratitis.

Current drug therapies can treat ocular herpes but do not prevent future attacks. Lbachir BenMohamed and Anthony Nesburn with the Gavin S. Herbert Eye Institute of UC Irvine’s ophthalmology department have developed the vaccine that keeps HSV-1 from activating and attacking the cornea.

Their vaccine produced excellent results in preclinical tests, and BenMohamed and Nesburn have found it to also work against genital herpes, which puts people at a significantly higher risk of contracting HIV.

“Our goal is to attack the virus at the root of the disease,” says BenMohamed, a member of UCI’s Institute for Immunology. “While tests are proving the vaccine effective for eye herpes diseases, it also might help curb genital herpes diseases and, potentially, the AIDS epidemic.”

The vaccine is distinctive because it’s administered as eye drops rather than injected. This is advantageous is two ways, BenMohamed says: Mucosal vaccines are easier and less expensive to produce, and they can be conveniently applied by patients themselves without using syringes.

The National Institutes of Health and Discovery Eye Foundation have supported BenMohamed and Nesburn’s eight-year research effort. Nesburn, in fact, is the Los Angeles-based foundation’s medical director. The two men recently formed a company, Micro Antigen Technologies, to create a version of the vaccine for early-stage clinical trials on human patients.

“Developing a vaccine consumes time and resources, but we’ve been fortunate to have the support to make it this far,” BenMohamed says. “We plan to have FDA-approved first-stage human trials in the next two to three years, and if those go well, we are on our way to an easy-to-use treatment for the many millions of people who already have the herpes virus.”

University of California at Irvine news: www.uci.edu